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Sadness is one of the emotions Austin attorney Kirk Watson says he feels as he looks into allegations his alma mater — Baylor University — may have violated National Collegiate Athletic Association rules. On July 23, Baylor officials tapped Watson, who graduated first in his class from Baylor Law School in 1981, to look into allegations surrounding the men’s basketball team. The thought that Baylor’s men’s basketball program may have violated NCAA rules against assisting student-athletes with tuition and living expenses is crushing, he says. On top of being shocked by the stream of allegations against the basketball program, Watson joins Baylor alums and students in mourning the death of Baylor University student and basketball player Patrick Dennehy Jr., who was found dead on July 26. Dennehy was reported missing on June 19. His body was found in a field near Waco. Autopsy reports released on July 30 show Dennehy died of multiple gunshot wounds to the head. On July 21, Carlton Dotson — a former Baylor student on the basketball team as well as Dennehy’s roommate — was charged in connection with Dennehy’s murder in an arrest warrant issued by the Waco Police Department. Dotson’s lawyer, Grady Irvin, a solo practitioner in St. Petersburg, Fla., did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment. Dotson is in jail in Chestertown, Md., where an extradition hearing is scheduled for Aug. 19. Allegations lodged by Dennehy’s father to the media about improprieties within Baylor’s basketball program prompted university president Robert Sloan to take action. In interviews Patrick Dennehy Sr. gave to the media when speaking about his 21-year-old son’s disappearance, the elder Dennehy alleged that his son told him an assistant Baylor basketball coach had arranged to help pay for his son’s education and living expenses last season while he was not on scholarship. The allegations, if true, would violate multiple NCAA rules. The elder Dennehy also alleged to the media that coaches assisted the younger Dennehy in purchasing a sport utility vehicle shortly after he transferred to Baylor from the University of New Mexico. A telephone number for Patrick Dennehy Sr. in Tacoma, Wash., was not listed. In addition, Melissa Kethley, the estranged wife of Dennehy’s former teammate and friend, Dotson, has alleged when talking to the media that the university fudged player drug tests. She could not be located for comment. Baylor officials, including men’s basketball head coach Dave Bliss, at a press conference at the university on July 28, deny the allegations against the men’s basketball program. Baylor officials hired Watson to serve as outside counsel to investigate the basketball team. On July 21, Sloan also sought the assistance of the school’s compliance investigation committee. Watson will assist the committee, which is made up of three Baylor Law School professors: Bill Underwood, a law school professor since 1990 who served as Baylor’s general counsel from 1997 to 1998; professor David Guinn, who teaches constitutional law, civil rights and local government; and Michael Rogers, a law professor who chairs Baylor’s Professional Sports Counseling Panel and is the faculty representative to the NCAA and Big 12 Conference. “It is not a fun job,” Watson, a former Austin mayor, says of investigating his alma mater’s basketball program, “but it is necessary to keep the school’s integrity.” Sloan was out of town last week and could not be reached for comment. However, in a statement released on July 28, he says: “We have no reason to believe that such NCAA infractions did indeed occur. However, we take the accusations very seriously. Integrity is the cornerstone on which our entire athletics program is built, and we will spare no effort to determine if that commitment was compromised in any way.” Laronica Conway, assistant director of public relations with the NCAA, declines to confirm if formal complaints have been filed with the NCAA against Baylor. Still, the public allegations made by Dennehy’s father about possible infractions by the men’s basketball department were enough for Sloan to activate the compliance investigation committee to look into the claims. In addition to Watson, the team of three Baylor law professors also investigated allegations against the men’s basketball team in 1995. The committee found that members of the men’s basketball team and three members of the coaching staff committed academic fraud when those coaches completed correspondence courses for the student-athletes; improperly gave financial aid to ineligible student athletes; and improperly recruited athletes, among other things. As a result, the committee recommended stiff repercussions against the basketball program, including a two-year ban on post-season competition and TV coverage. The committee also recommended a two-year scholarship reduction, a one-year reduction in official recruiting visits and a reduction in the number of assistant coaches. The NCAA, however, relaxed the sanctions a bit by rolling back post-season eligibility to one year. LOSS AND TRAGEDY Watson and Underwood say any information they may find while looking into the allegations of NCAA rule violations that could be used to help with the Dennehy murder investigation will be passed on to the Waco Police Department. For the time being, the committee is trying to compile all the information they have heard through the media, Watson and Underwood say. The committee members also intend to interview players, students, family members of players, and coaches and staff members who may have information about the allegations, Underwood says. The process also requires them to examine financial statements and related documents of anyone involved in the alleged NCAA rules violations. “So far, all the allegations have been reported in the press, so that’s where we’re starting,” Underwood says. “We have no time limit on the investigation, but certainly we want to do it quickly, yet thoroughly. We are being very mindful of the families involved and are leaving them alone at this time, but we will have to talk with them. Ideally this would be over within a week or two, but my experience tells me that it’s difficult to close out an NCAA investigation with a [murder] investigation pending.” If the committee, university and NCAA conclude that the allegations are true, possible penalties against Baylor include scholarship reductions for the basketball program, ineligibility for post-season play or suspension of television broadcast rights, according to the NCAA Committee on Infractions. Despite the possible appearance of a conflict since Watson and the three committee members all have ties to Baylor, Conway says it is common for universities to investigate themselves. In some instances, university officials call in the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions to assist with an investigation into alleged NCAA rules violations; in some cases, the school’s compliance investigation committee takes the lead, Conway says. “Anyone who questions if we’re partial can look at our track record,” Underwood says. “I believe we have shown that we’re willing to do something right.” Underwood says it is no coincidence that all three compliance investigation committee members have a legal background. He says the techniques they use when looking into allegations against any of the school’s athletic teams are the basic skills any attorney employs when preparing a case. In addition, he says the rules college sports programs must adhere to are complex. “To begin with, if you look at the NCAA rule book, it is very complicated. It puts the Internal Revenue Code to shame. It requires a legal background to understand them,” Underwood says. “The fact that we are all lawyers gives us a leg up. We are familiar with what is necessary for a legal investigation.” The committee faces several challenges. For one, the main witness, Dennehy, is dead. In addition, another possible person to talk to about the alleged NCAA violations is Dotson, since he was on the team and was Dennehy’s roommate. But, with Dotson charged with murder, Underwood doubts Dotson’s attorney will give the compliance investigation committee much access to him. Underwood says his attempts to contact Dotson’s attorney have been unsuccessful. “We definitely have some challenges, but we have been through those in the past,” Underwood says, referring to the committee’s work in 1995. “All of the information we have received has come to us second-, third- and even fourth-hand.” Not only was Watson a part of the committee assembled in 1995 to look at the problems within Baylor’s basketball program, but in 1998 he also helped look into allegations against various sports teams in the Texas Tech University athletic program. Alleged violations ranged from participation by ineligible student-athletes, to excessive financial aid awards to tuition assistance, among others, according to an NCAA report. As a result, the NCAA required Texas Tech to request a Big 12 Conference review each year, institute an internal audit of eligibility certifications and financial aid, and develop a compliance and rules education program, according to the NCAA report. The football and men’s basketball teams had to forfeit games in which ineligible student athletes had competed, and the programs lost some scholarship money, according to the report. A call to the public information office at Texas Tech was referred to the university’s former chancellor, John T. Montford, now president of external affairs for SWB Communications in San Antonio. He did not return two phone calls seeking comment before press time on July 31. Watson, a partner in Austin’s Watson, Bishop, London & Brophy, says, “We want to get to the truth. Having worked with Baylor on the past investigation, I can tell you that they do things right. It is a university that holds itself to high standards.” “I feel a sense of loss and tragedy, but I also feel honored,” says Watson about being asked to look into the alleged NCAA rule violations. “I am honored to be part of the investigation because Baylor is a university that works hard at preserving its strong values. I have a sense of great obligation, and my goal is to assist in an investigation to get to the truth.”

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